Average Joes sought for protests

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The San Francisco Chronicle

The Pig People will be there. So will Medea Benjamin, the former Green Party candidate who likes to throw herself in front of the Public Utilities Commission and TV cameras.

But when President Bush arrives in California this week, consumer activists, Democrats, labor groups and even some business leaders are hoping that protest rallies feature more than just the usual suspects, such as the activists in papier-mache pig helmets.

“We’re working very hard to get the rank and file out there,” Benjamin said. “We want to get a real cross-section of people.”

Because Bush’s trip to California was being planned and scheduled late, many activists and politicos were scrambling during the weekend to figure out how to confront the president during his two-day visit.

Several groups, including Working Assets Long Distance, the AFL-CIO and San Francisco’s Global Exchange, have purchased a full-page ad in the West Coast edition of the New York Times for Tuesday headlined: “Mr. Bush. Whose side are you on?” They are asking people to call the White House to urge Bush to “do your job.”

Gov. Gray Davis and many others want Bush to order a cap on the price of wholesale electricity, which has soared to record highs. Davis plans to bring the issue up at a face-to-face meeting with the president in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The meeting is supposed to last 20 minutes. Davis aides have said the governor wants the president to meet with consumer activists and business leaders stung by blackouts and high prices. Details of the meeting were still being worked out during the weekend.

Democrats are planning demonstrations the next day in Fresno so Davis’ meeting with the president will not be overshadowed on television and in the press by protests.

“There will definitely be a response in Fresno,” said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party. “But I don’t think we want to jeopardize whatever the governor is doing in Los Angeles.”

Benjamin said the Los Angeles protests in front of the Century Plaza Hotel probably are going to feature hundreds of people, not thousands. It’s hard to get people motivated on a Tuesday afternoon after a holiday, she said.

A Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman said they haven’t mobilized beyond the normal response for a presidential visit.

Three consumer groups have organized a protest scheduled for Tuesday morning at Camp Pendleton, where Bush is giving a speech on energy conservation. A mass e-mail was sent out last week to have people gather at the front gate.

This is Bush’s first visit to California since his inauguration. Benjamin said there is a lot of pent-up protesting to be done on issues from abortion rights to the environment.

But the focus will remain the energy crisis for most protesters.

“Certainly, a message must be sent to President Bush,” said Doug Heller with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which is not involved in the Pendleton protest but is e-mailing its own volunteers. “He may think politically he can ignore California, but economically the nation can’t let California fall into darkness.”

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